Album Reviews

Tommy Castro

Stompin’ Ground

Artist:     Tommy Castro

Album:     Stompin’ Ground

Label:     Alligator

Release Date:     09.29.2017


Tommy Castro thought long and hard about the roots of his quarter-century-in-the-making, might-as-well-be-patented sound as he prepared for his 10th studio album. That resulted in an hour of his best entertainment ever. Castro ate up the blues, rock, soul, and R&B that emanated from all over America in the 1960s and 70s. The streets of San Jose were his Stompin’ Ground.

With devilish guitar, and in a rich rasp that still raises the spirits, Castro drives his killer quartet (bassist Randy McDonald, drummer Bowen Brown, and keys man Michael Emerson) through a set that celebrates the past with wide-ranging pizazz, and serious punch. To open, they let loose the “Nonchalant” magnetism of a cool, collected woman by way of a marauding groove, and with guitar licks rip like her six-inch stilettos might. Clichéd, yes, but absolutely irresistible. When a 63-year-old greaser-looking dude sings a “Whoa Jeah” like Castro does in “Blues All Around Me,” it’s obvious he’s authentic. The funny thing about that one—it would easily grab a blues fan just as much as a Springsteen nut, especially given Nancy Wright’s Jersey-like, wailin’ sax.

On the real-deal blues end of the spectrum, “Live Every Day” doles out laid-back advice for a well-lived life. None other than Mississippi’s legendary Charlie Musselwhite trades lines with Castro in that fine, fine voice of his, and blows harp like cotton and wild onion-sweetened wind. “Enough is Enough” barrels off the rails as the anti-establishment locomotive it is, and “Rock Bottom” goes lowdown and slippery with guest Mike Zito singing quite John Hiatt-like in the first of four big guest spots. In a nod to the classic Southern rock/Southern soul era, “Soul Shake” features ex-Trampled Underfoot singer Danielle Nicole assisting the men as they rattle the rafters. Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo then lights up like Steve Winwood on a ride through “Them Changes,” the perennial force-of-nature tune that will never, ever get old given soul-rocking versions like this.

Tommy Castro and the Painkillers get down on the type of muscular blues-rocking that’s right at home in a roadhouse in Delbert McClinton’s neighborhood, or in any living room around the world.

—Tom Clarke

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